uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Exposing the FRC's Dishonesty

A facebook bully whom I had confronted in another forum yesterday challenged me to find an instance of the Family Research Council lying. Rather than write out a detailed comment on that thread, I figured I might as well do so here; after all, such an exercise is hardly difficult, and hardly sporting, but might prove entertaining and amusing to readers nonetheless. And it never stops being important to call out these organizations on their deceptions.

So I simply figured the best place to start would likely be the recently discredited Regnerus "study" of same-sex parents, which conservatives were calling "groundbreaking" before it had barely even scratched the surface of the literature, at which point any scholarly publication comes under major scrutiny. Despite being a very new publication, enough peer scholars had raised serious doubts about the study's obviously flawed methodology that the editor of it called for an audit, and the auditor famously declared that it was "bullshit."

The full audit, which appeared in November in the same journal, is even more damning than the Chronicle's report about it, noting that "the study did not examine children of identifiably gay and lesbian parents," but the FRC, despite heralding this study in virtually all of its communications on same-sex marriage, barely pays its critiques any heed. More on that in a minute.

Peter Sprigg, the FRC's resident pseudo-intellectual, first responded to the Chronicle's reporting on the matter in a post titled, "An Obscenity and a Headline Cant [sic] Discredit Study of Homosexual Parents." Here Sprigg, again despite the fact that the audit would not be published for another three months, attacks it, taking after auditor Darren Sherkat for his use of "bullshit": "Well, there you have it. A scholarly evaluation if Ive [sic] ever seen one." Of course, this wasn't Sherkat's "scholarly evaluation;" that was to come months later in the published audit. It was merely his comment to the Chronicle, and a nice, concise, summation, I'd say. But detail has never been the FRC's strong suit.

In this same post, Sprigg tries to point out a series of "positive" findings by the auditor, which are either flat-out false or grossly misleading. Among one of them was that, "[T]he [peer] reviewers were unanimously positive." This is of course a bizarre thing to highlight since one of the audit's findings was that there were several instances of conflicts of interest among the peer reviewers, some of which were not reported to the editor.

But even more hilarious is Sprigg's summary "positive" that "[T]he papers were peer reviewed." Yes, that's it: he's listing that, in a peer-review journal, a "positive" finding of the audit was that it was "peer reviewed." This is undoubtedly one of the most deceptive and insulting aspects of Sprigg's post; of course it was peer reviewed -- it's in a peer-review journal! That's like commending a specific type of apple because it has a core or a peel. But more to the point, it belies one of the fundamental problems discovered in the audit, that "the peer-review system failed because of 'both ideology and inattention' on the part of the reviewers." So yes, it was "peer reviewed," but the failure of that process is one of the major findings of Sherkat's audit.

And what was it the reviewers failed to note? It was a key problem in the study's data-gathering; namely, that despite the fact that the study is used as a means to oppose same-sex marriage, and despite the fact that its "findings" supposedly prove that children raised by "homosexuals" are worse off, only two of the 15,000 adults surveyed had been raised in a stable, two-parent, same-sex household. Sprigg hilariously dismisses this tainted data pool by saying, "This is a rather weak critique, since, as the Chronicle reported, The [sic] information about how parents are labeled is in the paper."

Besides noting that the FRC seriously needs copy editor, let's let the dishonesty of this argument sink in: Sprigg is arguing that pointing out this fundamental data-gathering flaw is "weak" because the paper reports it. As though this changes whether the methodology -- and the findings based on it -- is flawed! Not to mention that as has already been stated, part of the paper's problem was that it was not reviewed and revised appropriately by reviewers. Indeed, Sherkat told the Chronicle that this flaw alone should have precluded publication.

 Even more entertaining is what Sprigg does with this flaw in a more recent post called "Defining Marriage." In it, he recounts the tainted data pool (only two out of 15,000 were raised in stable, two-parent homes) and says that it proves that same-sex couples raising children is not "normal." Now this bit of sophistry is my favorite, since of course the study is not a poll gauging how many of such grown children (remember, these are adults, so people raised to adulthood some years ago) actually exist in America; rather, we are again left to question the scholar's data-gathering strategies. That is, if ideologies and conflicts of interest are apparent in not only Regnerus' study but also several of the reviewers involved, how do we know that they tried their best to find an accurate sampling in the first place? We don't. That's the problem with a discredited study -- it raises all sorts of questions otherwise. But to at once acknowledge that this study doesn't in fact gauge at all the raising of children by same-sex parents -- the entire point of Sprigg's post -- while then saying this study's fundamental flaw somehow proves what is "normal" is cognitive dissonance at its finest. You have to be either incredibly obtuse or fundamentally dishonest to not see that this study has no bearing on how children will turn out in the stable, two-parent homes of same-sex couples, the marriage of whom Sprigg's entire post is designed to oppose.

In the end, it doesn't take much critical thought to see through the FRC's half-truths and abuses of scholarship. I picked just one issue to meet this challenge; meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center keeps watch on the FRC as a hate group.

Because a hate group it is. Any organization which uses junk science, distortion, and deception to ostracize a specific group of people, ignoring all evidence to the contrary in an effort to deny them the full rights and privileges of anyone else, is merely following in the same footsteps as segregationists, anti-suffragists, and slave-holders. The intense dislike or belief in the target group's inferiority takes precedence, and any and all data surrounding them is only filtered through this prism of disdain.

That's why protestations that they do not "hate" fall on deaf ears. If their ideologies were not driven by prejudice, they would perhaps not resort so often to intentional distortions, dishonesty, and specious reasoning. That they are willing to stoop to such tactics shows that facts and truth are subordinated to their ultimate goal: thwarting any and all tolerance or acceptance of those they dislike.

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